Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg


MOST formal businesses resumed operations on Monday after being shut down since March 30 when the national lockdown to contain the potential spread of coronavirus came into force.

NewsDay Comment

But the resumption of business, which came as great relief to edgy workers who were unsure of their job security, has posed a new headache as the government has ordered mandatory testing of all employees and passed on the cost of the testing to the employers before they can resume duty.

This additional burden to an already struggling business sector is, in our view, unfair considering the timing of the announcement and the huge costs involved. We are told a private test costs between US$25 and US$100 per head.

Given the parlous state of most companies still in business, we wonder how many will manage this huge extra cost without running down their investments. Our worst fear is that the employer will take advantage of the given loophole to offload several workers as “excessive baggage” or “non-essential staff” and retain a few who would be tested and guaranteed job security.

Given that other governments the world over are actually bailing out businesses to safeguard their economies, it is baffling why President Emmerson Mnangagwa has decided to burden the already struggling companies.

It’s no secret that industry bankrolls most government operations through various taxes, so adding an extra burden on its back is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

As if that was not enough, the administration has even threatened to shut down businesses found in breach of this directive.

We believe that while employers are obliged to ensure the safety of their workers, in this particular case government should have provided the service for free and obligated companies to provide face masks and sanitisers so that the burden is shared equally since this is not only a national but global pandemic. Isn’t this where all the innumerable donations and Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s budget surpluses should come in handy?

As indicated by Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) president Israel Murefu in our Tuesday edition of NewsDay, most firms are likely to flout the regulation not because they just want to spite the government but due to the cost implications and practicability of the requirement.

“If you look at capacity, the national response has managed in more than 30 days to do just 9 000 tests, yet the government expects in just 14 days for companies to have tested over a million workers, it’s just not practical or feasible,” he said.

“The cheapest quotation for tests is US$25 and the most expensive is US$100 now for most companies that have not been operating there would be no budget for this, while the idea is noble and business is sympathetic and would want to ensure employees and their families are safe, the cost is just beyond reach, unless government proposes to include the cost of testing in the $18 billion stimulus package they are proposing,” Murefu said.

Unless something has escaped us, it would appear the government wants to abrogate its duty and use the mandatory tests as a fundraising gimmick for other State operations.

Isn’t it curious that the same government that is on one hand ordering struggling businesses to foot their workers’ COVID-19 mandatory tests is on the other hand dangling an $18 billion rescue package?


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